The Philly soulster's creating a life for himself and his family that reflects what they truly value: Each other.
He loves the time he spends with his children for many reasons, but the one that stands out is that as the father of six, he knows the importance of teaching each one about life, about survival, about responsible adulthood. He hopes that his everyday actions—like working hard and coming home every night to his family—make an impression. It’s important that kids witness the common, correct actions of an adult in order for them to learn how to mirror what they observe once they come of age, and unfortunately, in Philadelphia today, far too many youngsters are being denied those critical experiences. The things that a father does not do are just as important, like not putting anything ahead of his family’s welfare, not getting drunk at the bar every night, not getting arrested on a regular basis.
“Kids need to see their parents functioning normally,” says Fatin. “It’s one thing to be told how families and/or adults are supposed to act, but it’s another for them to actually see you go to work and make money and pay bills and put food on the table and buy clothes and spend time with your children.”
Fatin, the oldest of eight, was raised by his mother and stepfather in North Philly along with five of his siblings; the other two lived with his father. Because he could sing and play the clarinet and saxophone, Fatin went to Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts, which he attended with Boyz II Men and some members of The Roots. He was only there for two years before transferring to Overbrook High School. This was back in the 1980s, but we’ll put him at a little younger than Will Smith—so, he wasn’t a classmate.
“Growing up, my step-pop was a great example of faith, responsibility and accountability,” Fatin recalls. “His discipline and work ethic are the things that stand out the most.”
Thirty years ago, raising children in Philadelphia was a little different than it is today. The ‘80s is the last decade during which parents not only allowed but commanded their kids to go outside and play—and got no argument. In those days, kids ran the streets from sun-up to sundown. Sure, there were expensive summer camps, but who needed them when every adventure a child could stumble onto could be created, with sheer will and imagination, right out there in the neighborhood? Sure, they could go to the playground, but come on: that wasn’t nearly as fun as playing at a construction site. There were bricks to throw, sand to dig up, wooden beams to balance on. That was inherently the better—and, of course, more hazardous—time.
“When I was around 10 up until I was about 13, we used to go to this place we called The Box Club,” says Fatin, eyes looking skyward. “It was an old warehouse near 28th and Lehigh with a whole lot of cardboard boxes in there. Wrestling on TV was real popular back then, and we used to wrestle in the cardboard boxes.” I’m sorry, what? You went inside an abandoned warehouse and jumped on and wrestled in old, nasty cardboard? Surely a parent wouldn’t let you do that—there could be rats, bugs, lice, lead paint. Still, for some reason, when it came to keeping an eye on children back then, all bets were off. “We would also be out there flipping on dirty mattresses,” he recalls, another activity no responsible parent would ever let their child engage in.
Now, that dynamic is much different. Like today, there were drugs, violence and other dangers back then, but modern-day parents, who are simply those ‘80s kids all grown up, won’t let their offspring go virtually anywhere without supervision. It’s ironic that even during the height of the crack era—when the scourge flooded just about every neighborhood in Philadelphia, leaving countless, community-killing addicts in its wake and causing gangsters and petty thugs to go from carrying knives in their pockets to tucking guns in their waistbands—adults felt safer about their children being unsupervised than they do now.
“I think it’s interesting that [parents] act like these days are so much worse for kids,” says Fatin. “But for real-for real, today’s probably better. And they’re definitely safer than we were back in the day.” He remembers what he and his friends did and saw when they were roaming around for an entire day and can’t believe their parents allowed it. “With parents from our generation, there’s that stigma attached to the streets, so we don’t want our children just out and about, running around unsupervised.”
Indeed, over the last two decades, more indoor activities are keeping youngsters busy, some parents would say too many. Console games like Xbox or PlayStation, computers and, of course, social media are all major parts of most kids’ leisure lives. While still something that needs to be monitored, social media isn’t the big, threatening unknown that it was several years ago. Fatin still worries about it, though.
“It’s scary,” he opines. “Aquil is into [social media], and Diya is starting to really get into it a lot more now that she’s getting older. Aquil is all over Instagram and Twitter, and I just noticed the other day that he has a Facebook page.”
Only a few short years ago, parents used to worry that their kids could meet a predator online, then ultimately arrange a meeting, but you don’t hear people talking about those potential threats much anymore. Even Fatin doesn’t seem fearful of it.
“I don’t police [Aquil’s] Facebook page yet, but I kind of police his Instagram and his Twitter accounts,” he says. “But he’s got a private page, and he asks about different people to follow. And so far, there hasn’t been anything that I’ve had to have him take down.”
Just as today’s parents tackle new issues like the influence of social media, the same old ones still exist and need to be dealt with. As the father of four girls, Fatin wants to do all he can to help steer them in the right direction when it comes to eventually dealing with the opposite sex.
“I really try to teach them to be mindful of men,” he says. “I want them to be careful of the men that they choose, always be respectful and always be ladies.”
It’s one thing for a mother to sit and talk with her daughter about this, but remember: Fatin wants to teach his children by example.
“I hope that what [my girls] see in me, by being a man who loves their mother, will be an example that will make them choose wisely,” he continues, “but I realize there’s trial and error for everyone, so the best thing I can do is be that example of a good man who loves their mother and loves them. Hopefully that will show them that love was already in their lives so they’re deserving of love and will seek out the right man when looking for mates. God willing.”
Back at the Dantzler house, their afternoon-evening routine is basically picking up all of the kids from school, then overseeing homework, dinner and bed. That’s when Fatin’s real work begins. To complete this latest Kindred the Family Soul LP, he and Aja only toiled at night, after their children were asleep—the first time they recorded an album with no children in the studio. Aja’s mother would stay at the house while she and Fatin were recording. Once they had everything arranged and started working on A Couple Friends, after about two months, they suddenly took a break from it.
“We felt like we were working too fast and maybe were a little unfocused, so we took a break for about a year,” Fatin explains. “We worked on other things. Performing and other little projects took up our time, but when we got back in the studio, everything happened. Creativity just started pouring out.”
A Couple Friends, released yesterday on New Jersey-based indie Shanachie Records, is a smooth, soulful testimonial to a couple’s commitment to each other. On “Get It, Got It,” one of its faster-paced songs, Aja’s grown-woman soul-singer voice flows over a little piano riff while the song bounces along a subtle bass line. Fatin, who sings from down deep like an old-school mack but can also take it up a register or two, comes in later: “I’m just speaking the truth ‘cause our love is the truth ... We got our own rhythm, we groove. All my life I’ll spend with you. Every day feels brand new.” The album’s title track sounds like the two of them making magic over a live piano—separate, equal and in love a long time.
For this LP, they called in familiar musician-producers like acclaimed Philly stalwarts Steve McKie (Jill Scott, Bilal, Jazmine Sullivan) and James Poyser (Erykah Badu, Mariah Carey), which kept the Kindred sound consistent with their earlier work. Poyser produced the song “Call Me Crazy,” along with Fatin and Aja, but his work with Fatin dates as far back as his Overbrook days. “He was a great entertainer even back then,” he says of Fatin. “He was placing for talent shows while he was still in high school.”
Election Day 2014: Tues., Nov. 4